Tom Lee Park

Location
Memphis, TN

Status
In design

Client
Memphis River Parks Partnership

Type
Civic

Size
30 acres

Tags

The city of Memphis is located on a great bluff that rises above the Mississippi River. Since the early 19th century, its riverfront has largely been used as a working yard for industry and transport, cluttered with terminal buildings, grain elevators, and barges that obstructed the public from directly accessing the river. Today, as Memphians embrace a renewed relationship with the Mississippi, the new Tom Lee Park will catalyze the reunification of river and city by transforming a significant piece of the riverfront into a signature park where community life can flourish along the water’s edge.

Developed in collaboration with SCAPE, the park’s design is informed by the dynamic patterns of flow that are so characteristic of the Mississippi, whose winding oxbows and other features have etched the region over time. Both architecture and landscape work together to smoothly facilitate the movement of people into and through the park, and to capture—on land—the sense of motion and change that the river exemplifies.

To open up access to the park and create a welcoming sense of arrival, the design includes five new and improved entrances with defined landing points that extend from major streets. From here, visitors are greeted by new topography, plantings, and paths that frame views of the river, guide them to specific landmarks, and connect them with the park’s outdoor spaces, which range in scale from open lawns for games and cookouts to wooded micro-forests for shaded rest.

The new entrances tie into a city-wide network of riverfront walking and biking trails, creating direct connections to key civic assets and institutions such as the National Civil Rights Museum and the future home of the Brooks Museum of Art.

Views of the Mississippi River are framed, preserved, and enhanced with the park's new topography.

The new Tom Lee Park is comprised of four primary zones: the Civic Gateway welcomes visitors from Beale Street and Vance Park at the north end, an Active Core offers space for lively and flexible activities, the Community Batture provides shade and elevated views of the river, and the Habitat Terraces offer a more intimate experience of the natural landscape at the park's southern end.

The park’s program incorporates the ideas and input of Memphians from across the city. Designed to support their ambitions and favorite activities, new structures emerge from the landscape to flexibly accommodate a range of uses—sports and fitness, outdoor education, community dinners, and concerts, to name just a few—and to elevate them with the living backdrop of the Mississippi.

The Active Core of the park provides open and flexible spaces for gatherings of all sizes.

In addition to providing shelter for larger community events and activities, the Civic Canopy also offers smaller scale spaces for intimate gatherings on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Tom Lee Park Canopy Section Sports, designed by Studio Gang and SCAPE
Tom Lee Park Canopy Section Dance Party, designed by Studio Gang and SCAPE
Tom Lee Park Canopy Section Game Day, designed by Studio Gang and SCAPE
Tom Lee Park Canopy Section Concert, designed by Studio Gang and SCAPE

With its high clearances, the Civic Canopy can flexibly host a variety of events and activities, from large to small, throughout the seasons year-round.

The Point Bar Pavilions are constructed of reclaimed materials and provide park amenities such as food and beverage, restrooms, and storage space.

Inspired by the industrial structures that once operated on the riverfront, these pavilions and shelters introduce a material aesthetic that embraces the palette of Memphis and the patina that will come with time.

Throughout the park, regionally-specific plant species provide shade and beauty for people as well as critical habitat for wildlife. Well-adapted to life at the Mississippi’s edge, these trees, shrubs, and other plants make the park a resilient and ever-changing place that marks the passage of the seasons—a peaceful spot within the city for Memphians to reconnect with each other and nature’s rhythms.

The Canopy Walk gives visitors an immersive experience of an ecologically-diverse area at the far south end of the park.

Consultant Team

SCAPE, landscape architect

Kimley-Horn, civil engineer

Thornton Tomasetti, structural engineer

Applied Ecological Services, ecologist

Innovative Engineering Services, MEP

DataBased+, sustainability

Randy Burkett, lighting design

Awards

Honorable Mention, The Architect's Newspaper Best of Design Awards, Unbuilt – Landscape Category, 2019

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"Memphis is the nation’s second poorest large city, and its poorest zip code — 38126 — sits next to Tom Lee Park. Sixty-one percent of the people who live in that mostly-Black zip code are poor, and the median age is 24. In the other surrounding zip codes, 33 percent of the people who live there are poor.

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